Shanghai Tokyo reminds me of that old boyfriend/girlfriend who has identity issues and tries to please you by being whatever they think you want them to be.

There are certain parts of their personality that you grow really fond of, but there are also other parts you’d just as soon live without. It doesn’t bode well for a long-term relationship.

Shanghai Tokyo has three personalities — one Chinese menu, one Japanese menu and a Thai menu. It would certainly take more than one visit to determine whether a diner is a good match for a place that has 288 items on its combined lunch and dinner menus. (Yes, I counted them.) We zeroed in on the lunch menu, which is much more manageable on its own.

The lunch menu is mercifully restricted to Japanese and Chinese food. Shanghai Tokyo’s Thai menu is very limited, and really, I’m not sure why they bother. If you have a hankering for Thai, there are well over a dozen Portland-area restaurants that do Thai well.

The Chinese lunch menu offers entrees ranging from $6.95 to $8.25, with most dishes falling in the $6.95-to-$7.50 range. The entree comes with soup (eat-in only), a choice of appetizers (vegetable spring roll or shrimp spring roll, and crab rangoon or chicken wings) and choice of rice.

The hot-and-sour soup was really delicious. It arrived steaming hot, tasted fresh, and had just the right amount of heat. I could have eaten more of it.

I was not as lucky with my entree. The sauce that came with the chicken with garlic sauce tasted too sweet to me, like it was trying to be a sweet-and-sour sauce. It had an identity crisis, like the menu, and it ended up coming across as just odd, and not something I would want to order again.

Worse, with my first bite of chicken, I bit into something gristly and inedible, something that inevitably happens when the chicken is not trimmed well. This is a pet peeve of mine. Nothing ruins a good chicken salad sandwich like biting into something that’s not supposed to be there. I can be forgiving, though, because hey, this kind of thing can happen to anyone, right?

Then, a few bites later, it happened again. And I completely lost my appetite.

I watched longingly as the handful of other diners in the restaurant were delivered the Japanese food they had ordered. It looked really good, and I found myself wishing I had ordered from that part of the menu.

The service at Shanghai Tokyo is prompt and courteous. One thing they do that I think is a great idea for other restaurants to follow is they bring out a little sample of another dish for you to try — something you didn’t order but might want to in the future. In my case, it was a piece of salmon roll.

This happened to me once at another Maine restaurant, when I expressed indecision about a course. I narrowed it down to two items, then made a choice between them. When they brought out my first choice, they also brought a little sample of the other dish for me to try. It left me with a good feeling about the place, and made me want to go back.

If I go back to Shanghai Tokyo, I’ll be ordering something from the Japanese side of the menu.

The Features staff of The Portland Press Herald anonymously samples meals for about $7.

 


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